There’s been some really interesting comments on yesterday’s post about Lev Grossman‘s article on Modern Book Publishing. I was particularly taken by Joe’s comment. “The existence of a publishing hurdle will make the accomplishment of getting published a more meaningful one when it finally comes and, beyond that, will make it more likely that I will actually enjoy some success in connecting to readers, because it keeps me from inflicting my worst work on people.” That’s really close to what I was getting at!
I had a further conversation about the article with Rexroth, who (I think I’ve mentioned this before) is also a writer. For your edification, I’m sharing our gtalk conversation yesterday, which starts on the topic of the article, gets into some interesting stuff about revision, and ends with some additional thoughts on breaking into the industry. (It’s ok, Rexroth said I could!)
I’ll be curious to hear what you think!
[A conversation between Rexroth and Daphne, on publishing.]
Rexroth: Your post today is very interesting. It’s unfortunately something that’s hard for us to talk about, I think, but I’m glad you posted it.
Daphne: You should comment on it, because what do you mean “hard for us to talk about”? Do you mean us, personally? You and me?
Rexroth: I have opinions on the publishing industry that, my feeling is, get discounted by people in the industry as the grumbling of someone not benefiting from the industry. I, personally, know that my view of publishing as a laughably, almost pitiably antiquated structure are not going to change just because I start getting paid by them, but that isn’t a bucket that carries water with other people, so I prefer to stay silent and not get the looks that say “listen to the poor unpublished ‘writer’ gripe about the system.”
Daphne: I’m sorry you feel that way, love.
Rexroth: Which way? About the system, or about the reactions I get when I talk about it? 🙂
Daphne: That you feel your feelings are discounted — particularly, by me. I don’t want to discount anything from you! I think your way of thinking — as evidenced by top writers like Doctorow and Scalzi — is becoming more mainstream, and will, hopefully, be recognized and accepted by the system
Rexroth: My gut reaction to your post, honestly? When did writing a story and having 100 people read it become a bad thing? That’s about 95 more than have read most of mine. At a buck fifty a download, that pays me more than I’ve ever been paid to write any fiction.
Daphne: It’s not a bad thing, on a personal level. Not at all!
Rexroth: But… Yeah. My impression of success in writing is — I will freely admit — is far more strongly influenced by indie game publishing than by Amazon sales. Which doesn’t involve a publishing industry that needs a book to sell thousands of copies to break even. So I understand where my idea of success is not workable in publishing. I dunno. I just like stories. All this other stuff… it’s good there are people who do it, cuz it makes me not want to write. 🙂
Daphne: And for you then, maybe — given that mindset and the fact that you have, conceivably, via your blogs and wiki, an audience that would buy it — it might be something to consider seriously. I hate that the publishing industry, where I make my living (sometimes), makes you less interested in writing. That’s not the point! That’s the reverse of the point!
Rexroth: It’s just… I dunno. [Editor considering Rexroth’s novel] talks about stuff that makes the story better. That makes me happy.
Daphne: That’s good! Happy is good!
Rexroth: Other people talk about whatever will make it the most saleable, and leverage the rights to the book in the mostly financially profitable way, according to the technology of 1970, and that makes me kind of … depressed, I guess. That’s not the word. Apathetic.
[We then talked a little bit about his book’s submissions, and came to this conversation about revision.]
Rexroth: Anyway: [Editor] asked for some more depth in regards to [character stuff] and specifically said “25 more pages” of book, in total. Which is 12.5 thousand more words.
Daphne: Which you could do in like 6 days! [based on Rexroth’s NaNoWriMo success rate]
Rexroth: Yeah. Just need to do it. I already know what needs written, it’ll probably be pretty easy to add. I’m just afraid I’m going to fall through the roof and get in a mess.
Daphne: You can’t be afraid to work. You can’t be afraid to try something that someone has already said they want to look at, and then complain that people aren’t looking at it.
Rexroth: Mmm, that’s not it. Right now, I have a very nice roof. Watertight and functional.
Rexroth: And someone wants some more skylights.
Daphne: Light IS nice
Rexroth: Which, even now, I think of as pointless and unnecessary additions to a perfectly functional roof.
Daphne: Ok, then hold on, I have an idea. Consider them not as skylights, but as SOLAR PANELS!
Rexroth: But that’s not the worry. The worry is that the roof is over a roiling mass of zombies. Said zombies represent all the other stories I’m sitting on while working on this roof.
Daphne: Zombies aside, the panels have a job to do. Yes, your roof works just fine without them, but they will make your house more efficient. And if you tackle one zombie at a time, you can get through the battle, with less chance of friendly fire taking out a loved one
Rexroth: My concern is that I’m going to fall into the zombies, and they’ll crawl out and start adding things to the roof, and that it will take me another year to get all that additional stuff watertight and pretty again. I’ve been working on this story for over 7 years, and that idea … is not appealing. Put another way: I don’t need 12 thousand more words. I need 12 thousand more words that have been polished to the same degree as the rest of the story, which took a long time. 😛
Rexroth: Love, my heart, it’s okay. I need to write the stuff, and polish it, and quit whining about it, because even I’m sick of hearing me bitch. I need to be on to another stage with this thing, because I (as I relate to this current iteration of the story) annoy me.
Daphne: And as soon as you finish this and get it off, you can go back to writing something you ARE excited about! Like [your NaNoWriMo novel]!
Daphne: Or do this WHILE working on that character twitter feed you mentioned, so you can do new stuff that informs the old stuff
Rexroth: I hope they don’t all take this much — forgive me – a$$ kissing to get published though. Seven or eight years isn’t worth it for me.
Daphne: After the first book is sold, it gets easier. Usually.
Rexroth: My impression of publishing is that the first book (or two) is just the author proving that enough people like them to the publisher — once that’s established, they can just write, polish, and be done. 😛 Because some of the stuff [big name authors] write now? Would never make it one the shelves if they weren’t … them. It’d never make it out of the slush pile. I love those guys, but it’s true.
Daphne: It’s true, there is a certain open-door policy when you’re an author who’s already made millions of dollars for a publisher. But it’s not a guarantee of success.
Rexroth: That doesn’t make it BAD, but it reflects that the … threshold for entry is actually higher than the floor, once you’re inside.
Daphne: But I don’t know if you can compare [bestselling author], for example, trying to get in the industry now with his latest book, with [same bestselling author] getting into the industry with [his first novel]. I think the other thing to be aware of is the exponential increase in submissions in the last couple of decades
Rexroth: What I mean is… let’s say [recent bestseller].
Rexroth: [Said recent bestseller],were it [that author’s] first book… would be a different book.
Daphne:Possibly. But it’s not. It’s a book in a new genre for him (or was at the time), but a publisher could look at his numbers for [his previous work in a different genre] and see huge potential.
[And then we got all cute and adorable and talked about laundry and haircuts]